Yorkshire is knee deep in monastic houses from the great foundations such as Fountains and Rievaulx to the smaller but no less fascinating Kirklees Priory with its links to Robin Hood. Part of the reason for the great number of monastic foundations in Yorkshire is the fact that the early monks wanted to live like the Desert Fathers – on their own in the wild. It was also excellent land for sheep once it had been cleared, although the monks of Jervaulx made their reputation as breeders of fine horses. The Yorkshire Moors must have seemed very wild a thousand years ago. Then there were the monastic patrons and benefactors. So far so good – but what about Derbyshire surely it was no less wild and surely to goodness there were plenty of patrons eager to save their souls? It’s not as if its a million miles from Yorkshire either (though clearly the traffic restrictions currently in operation on the M1 are doing a very good job of creating that impression). In actual fact the large monasteries did have extensive links with Derbyshire but rather than establishing monastic houses they established granges – or farms. Roche Abbey had a number of granges in the White Peak.
The abbey that most immediately springs to mind is Calke Abbey which now bears no resemblance to an abbey and which is in the hands of the National Trust. A bit of research revealed that it wasn’t an abbey, it was a priory in the hands of Augustinian Canons – so that’s me told. The priory at Repton is its daughter house. Now I’ve always known Repton for its links to Vikings so clearly I’m not doing very well thus far.
Gresley Priory became a parish church and Darley Priory – another Augustinian stronghold turned into an eighteenth century stately stack whilst its guest house became an inn rejoining in the name “Old Abbey Inn” just in case a passing historian should miss the obvious. Then there’s Dale Abbey in Deepdale. Then there’s Bradbourne Priory and Breadsall Priory. Each and every one of these was run by the Augustinians. As might be expected, Derby boasted more than one monastic foundation including the Augustinians.
The Benedictines were the first monks to settle in Post-Conquest England. Their robes were black. The Cluniacs were aliens – all under the control of the mother house in France and the Augustinians were priests who went outside the precincts of their monastic houses to minister to their flocks. The later additions to the monastic fold were the twelfth century Cistercians who looked to a life of poverty and hard work – which brings us back to the Cistercians of Rievaulx and Fountains.
Now, all I need to do is reach for my copy of Derbyshire King’s England by Arthur Mee and a road atlas and plan my route.
Romantic be the names of Abbeys built in North Yorkshire. Viking Normans after King Rolo the first gave his Viking nobles land in Normandy and was blessed by the Pope and Vatican.. Those funny names of Abbey fame are in Viking Norman language named when they came over to be held as monks in England they wisely took land by rivers for water and to feed their fish stew ponds. If you have never tasted Carp cooked from monks recipes you re missing out on pure delight. Breeding common Carp and then placing them in stew ponds of crystal clear water for two weeks before eating cleaned out the taste of river mud and left white meat cooked in grills and sprinkled with parsley and cider wines you have great fish for dinner. In Lincoln Cathedral lays a very large slab of marble stone used to lay out the dead monks. It is the size of this historic slab that tells us of the heavy build of the average monk. Most whom worked hard in garden toils had bees for mead and honey over roast pork. They lived so well that they could not allow the poor inside to see. Closed orders meant just that in poverty graded England then. They left us education and a love of architecture in truth they had a life that was divine in more ways than one. It was the main reason why Cromwell decided to be brave enough to give his King Henry the Eighth that information that in effect destroyed all that was holy and fat. Romantic Britain leaves us traceries of cobwebbed windows in front of setting sunshine and the relics of magical stone craft that was constructed ,in the name of God.
I never knew that the monks moved their fish around – and I’d have to say carp sounds good!
Where were the monks from who were laid out on the slab? Lincoln was a secular cathedral and although Remegius, the founder, was a Benedictine monk, there was no monastery connected with the Cathedral or monks there as canons.